Stanton Park — The Label
Stanton Park started off life in the ’80s as a Boston area record label releasing 45s and LPs by local bands such as: Willie Alexander, the Bags, Kenne Highland, Voodoo Dolls, World of Distortion and plenty more. In the ’90s the label looked beyond Boston for such bands as the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Brood, Head and the Hares, Medicine Ball and ’60s garage legends the Rising Storm.
Stanton Park Records released it’s first record by theTrodds in 1981. A second four-song EP followed six months later in 1982. Neither sold well. And with that, Stanton Park went into hibernation for five years.
Rebirth and Growth
In 1987 the label was resurrected to release 45s for three bands that contained one or more members of the Trodds. World of Distortion, was the first of these, and made a small dent on local college stations. More importantly, it introduced the label to some of the independent distributors around the country, and in Europe — which was a double-edged sword. The next two releases, Hackmasters and Ladds from Bellevue served to consolidate Stanton Park as a label with one foot in the garage.
These singles fared better than their predecessors, and the label was rejuvenated. With the indie scene developing an ecosystem of its own, the idea of a small label to release music that was going on in Boston started to seem like a good idea. Several local bands had been signed and were getting attention outside the confines of Boston, and the local scene had quite a few bands that I liked, and felt were being ignored.
The next few singles released in 1988, were by bands who I knew, and had shared bills with over the previous few years. Johnny and the Jumper Cables, fronted by Kenne Highland, was a breakthrough. Pairing a couple of radio tapes on a single did well locally, and was likewise well-received by the press elsewhere, (aware or not of Kenne’s past work in the Gizmos and Afrika Korps).
Better Connections — The Bags, the Brood and Mailorder
The Bags, who had been making lots of fans in Boston with their supercharged shows (Hendrix meets MC5 and Fear) were one of my favorite bands, and I was keen to release something by them. Problem was, they had just released their debut, Rock Starve on Restless Records, and it seemed like big things were going to happen for them. But in a twist of fate, they were free (contractually) by the end of 1988 and agreed to release a 45 on Stanton Park. The resulting 45, “I Know”/“Hide and Seek” was the best selling record for Stanton Park to date, and brought the label much more attention.
1989 and 1990 saw a single as well as full length albums as I tried to grow the label. The Bags and their alter-ego, Swamp Oaf released albums in 1989 and 1990 which were both received quite well and sold quickly. In February 1990, the Brood, from Portland, Maine released a 45 which consisted of covers of two New England Garage bands — a precursor to a new direction. Coming on the heels of their successful debut album, In Spite of it All, this 45 also did quite well, and attracted even more attention to the label.
This newfound success created a bit of a problem. I couldn’t afford to press enough records to keep up with the demand, and distributors were certainly not paying fast enough for me to press more records. During this time, more requests for a mailorder catalog had been showing up in the mailbox, and in fact I had been selling a fair number of singles via mail (which helped out in the pressing and promotion costs of the records). But maybe, I thought, there was a way to take this to a new level…
In 1989 a sister mail order catalog was launched to handle the requests for Stanton Park’s releases. That catalog, which began as a photocopied sheet hammered out on a manual typewriter, consisted of all the Stanton Park releases as well as a few hand-picked titles by bands with some connection to the label (Dark Cellars, Hopelessly Obscure). At its peak, that one page list mutated into the Vinyl Injections mail order catalog which contained several hundred titles and was mailed to hundreds of customers six times a year.
Life as an Indie
The success of the Bags and Brood releases allowed the label to start thinking a bit about the direction it would take, and how it could improve its lot in the independent scene. Distribution was spotty, and unreliable, press in the growing fanzine network was helping, but it was still a struggle just to get a release out, get it reviewed or played on the radio. Returning to a concept, which had begun as a loose idea in 1986, a local compliation began to take shape.
In August 1990, Where’s Stanton Park? was released just as the situation in the Persian Gulf flared up. The title came about as a joke; many people had asked just where is Stanton Park? (Yes the place I refer to as Stanton Park does exist…sort of…) The initial aim of that compilation was to showcase many of the original Stanton Park bands. By the time the compilation was actually released, several local bands which had caught my ear were also included. While the idea was to broaden the scope of what was being released on the label, only a handful of the bands on the compilation saw subsequent releases on Stanton Park.
The next few years would see Stanton Park ride the ever turbulent roller coaster that is the life of any small independent label. There were many bumps and curves in the road, yet somehow the label managed to persevere and survive the flood of mediocrity that followed Nirvana in 1992 as well as the over-zealous transformation to CDs that threatened to wipe out vinyl. (Hah! Not in this lifetime…) Maybe because of the twists and turns, or the uncertain direction of the indie scene at the time, and certainly due to some fortunate events, I began to steer Stanton Park in a slightly different direction.
Back in 1986, around the time that the label was reactivating, I had hatched the idea of compiling a discography of New Egland garage records from the ’60s. This, along with my small but growing colleciton of original 45s had piqued my interest and by 1992, the idea of a few reissues to go along with this discography was quite appealing.
New England Garage — The Reissue Projects
In June of 1992, the New England Reissue series was launched with a exact reproduction of the legendary, and very collectable album Calm Before… by the Rising Storm. The Rising Storm were preparing for their 25th high school reunion, and Arf Arf was doing a CD reissue of their lone, and very collectable album. What better time would there be to produce a quality reissue of this album? I worked extra hard on the cover to get the colors right, match the fonts, repair a damaged photo, and even to fix an omission from the original. The old paste-on cover was produced by a pressing plant that still had the machinery from the sixties. I wanted this to be right. The hard work paid off, and Calm Before… sold very well in the US and Europe.
Work was progressing on the discography, and by the middle of 1993, Till the Stoke of Dawn was finally printed after seven years of research. At some point during the work on the book, I thought it would be a cool idea to create a compilation of New England garage bands to compliment the book. The resulting LP, Relative Distance, was released just ahead of the book. These two releases, along with the Rising Storm were a new and separate direction that I wanted to take the label in. However, many of the same problems existed with (slow-paying) distributors, so it was very hard to capitalize on the momentum that these releases created.
There were three more releases in the “SRE” (Stanton Park Reissue) series over the next several years. Two issues of a small fanzine, Banjo Room Revisited were printed. These two volumes compiled stories and interviews focused on the New England ’60s garage bands and people behind them. They were illustrated with period ads and took some design cues from period zines such as New England Teen Scene.
Finally, in 1996, a single by The Lost was released in conjunction with a reissue project that I was working on with Arf! Arf! This single featured two sides of the Lost, the rocking “Who Do You Love?” backed with a more melodic original, “It Is I.” However, by this point the appetite for 45s had diminished in the record buying public due in part to oversaturation at the hands of the grunge scene. And this 45 wound up pretty much lost in the shuffle.
LPs in the Age of CDs — Stanton Park Albums
After struggling through most of 1991, before attention returned to the garage, there was one major release; Night of the Corn People by The Bags. The band had convinced me to release this as a CD. And despite my misgivings about that format I complied (with the stipulation that there would be a vinyl version as well). Thus Corn People hit the stores right at the end of the year, and right as the band was calling it quits just missing an opportunity to tour Europe. Nonetheless, the album sold well, and got good distribution in Europe where the a double LP version was released by Helter Skelter records in Rome. The double LP was also available in the US as part of the licensing/distribution deal that had been set up. Alas, the first shipment arrived at Logan Airport in the midst of a heavy winter storm. The boxes containing the LPs were left outside in heavy rain and consequently split open spilling all over the runway. I was not amused.
Though the end of 1992 saw a pair of singles by Facts about Rats and the Voodoo Dolls respectively, it wasn’t until 1993 that the next full-length album by a current band was released. Not For Sale by the Voodoo Dolls picked up pretty much where their second single “Bad Feeling,” left off, delivering an amped-up garage record with lots of guitars. This time Stanton Park did the vinyl, and Helter Skelter released the CD in Europe. While the band didn’t get to Europe, they played a lot around the northeastern US and developed a pretty strong following in New York.
Some time in 1989 Jon Hardy of the Bags slipped me a tape by a band from Providence named Medicine Ball. Their sound was markedly different than most bands I was working with. But something ticked, and after much deliberation (over which song) I finally picked “Sissy and Me” to be included on Where’s Stanton Park? in 1990. Like many of the bands on that comp, I would have been happy to release an additional record with Medicine Ball, but I had my hands full with other projects. However, Medicine Ball took matters into their own hands releasing the stunning Sandwich Full of Lies in 1991. My reaction to it was pretty immediate — I listened to it three times straight!
Even so, the best I could do at the time was to help the band distribute their LP, which I did via the catalog and my connections with Helter Skelter. However, it wasn't too long before they were working on their followup album, and I jumped at the chance. Science Secret Stars was released in 1994 and is a very different record than Sandwich, yet like its predescessor, it rewards you with close listening. The guitar/bass interplay had tightened up in the interim and band tied the whole album together with dream-like snippets that sequed between songs. Again, Stanton Park did the vinyl, but a CD version was released in Europe by September Gurls records. While the album was received well by some reveiwers, it probably seemed a bit out in left field compared to other Stanton Park releases.
A Singular Sensation — Back To Where We Started
By 1994 the label went back to vigorously supporting the seven inch single; releasing nine 45s in the next three years. This was partly due to the problems with distribution, and the costs associated with producing an album. I was also starting to think that the habit of filling up CDs with 70+ minutes of music was coming at the expense of good songwriting. You could listen to an entire album, but might not remember a song. Not so with the 45. There are two to four songs, so as a band, you have to put your best material forward. Or, that had been the case. By this point, the 45 was becoming the dumping ground for outtakes, live cuts, or throwaway cuts (how many New Bomb Turk 45s were released? 17 not including splits/comps). I thought it deserved better.
My initial concept was to create a sort of budget series but make them limited and collectable by customizing the covers in one way or another. The idea was to try to get 45s out more efficiently and not spend so much money fancy graphics that were being lost in the sea of 45s filling record stores. The first two 45 of these 45s were by Sensurround and the Nines. Sensurround was a band that formed from the ashes of the very moody psych band Subskin Cables. The Nines, meanwhile had been formed by Evan Shore shortly after the Voodoo Dolls dissolved in early 1994. The Nines were a harder-rocking three piece who would form the base of Evan’s next, and most successful bands to date, Muck and the Mires.
Over the next few years, there were three additional releases in this series. Psyho’s Psychopaths featuring Dave Arvedon (of the “Till the Stroke of Dawn” Psychopaths fame), Slump who recorded a couple slacker-garage winners and a split 45 between Kenne Highland and the Doom Buggies.
Though the Limited Edition Series did what it set out to do, more or less, I started to think that it was time to release the singles as significant releases again. Thus the next three 45s went back to the standard foldover sleeve, two-colors this time and regular press runs. The Time Beings had been around the scene for years, but had just released a their first full length a few years before. They were always a fun band to see live, particulary with lead guitarist Preston Wayne who was constantly being told to turn down at just about every club they played. Their version of the Looking Glasses’ “Visions” was quite good and found it’s way on to the A side of their 45 which was released in 1997. Also in 1997, the ’Bald Guys, released a garagey 45 with a special guest keyboardist on one cut.
But the 45 that created the greatest stir was by a San Francisco band who had been to creating a stir of their own. Through a connection in San Fransico, I was able to sign the Brian Jonestown Massacre for a 45. The resulting 45 did quite well and eventually sold out.
All Good Things… — The Last Releases
Sometime around 1994, there was a fire at the pressing plant that had been creating the paste-over covers for the sixties reissue releases. That created a huge problem for me. For better or worse, I was committed to using that style cover for these sort of releases, and thus began a several year search to find another plant that still did those covers. Eventually, I gave up, and started a different search. This time to find a printer who would custom-make these sort of jackets for me. This turned out to be an expensive project, and in retrospect, a mistake.
However, by early 1998, I had found a place that would create the diecut, and assemble the covers! So the next project could proceed. And, what better release to utilize these newfound covers on than the second album by Rome, Italy’s Head and the Hares? Autumn Songbook was released in the spring (!!!) of 1998. Though this record was received well, I think it may have taken too long to be released consequently losing the momentum gained by their fantastic moody debut.
Later in 1998, the second issue of Banjo Room Revisited was published. Also, with the ability to make the heavy covers restored, Relative Distance was repressed. And with that, the label took a four year hiatus.
Even though it was not my intention, I did reactivate the label briefly in 2003 for one last album; a CD, no less. I was playing with Kenne Highland again, and we had recorded a pretty good album (I thought). So after a bit of debate about how to release it, I decided to bring the label back for this CD. Though nothing had changed for the better on the distribution side, we were able to sell a good number of CDs at gigs. But, by that time I did not have enough interest to immerse myself in all that it takes to run a label again, so with that, the beast went back to sleep.